2018 Le Mans Classic: an icon revived

There are few race tracks around the world with an aura like Le Mans. Le Mans Classic celebrates this heritage and its long history in endurance racing with a historic race every other year for nearly a century. It takes place every other year.

The heritage of Le Mans Classic

The first “24 Heures du Mans” occured in 1923 as a competition by the automotive industry to prove their products were reliable. In the years that followed, the race became bigger and bigger – and with Steve Mc Queen, it even made it to the movies.

Up until now, the 24 Hours is one of the big races, where motorsports are celebrated in all its facets. Works teams with state-of-the-art prototypes share the road with the GTs of gentlemen racers, which are—more or less—modified versions of production cars. And the circuit, which at the beginning was around 17 km, is still pretty long at 13.5 km. Even more, the Mulsanne straight, as an iconic part of Le Mans, is superlative: drivers go flat out in top gear for over one minute. “You are one with the machine” remembers Le Mans legend Derek Bell driving on the Mulsanne straight during the night at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Linked to this heritage, French events promoter Peter Auto couldn’t go wrong in creating a classic car event to be held there. Today, Le Mans Classic features cars from 1923 to 1981, which compete with each other in 6 grids. On the racing weekend, every grid has four races, including one night session. The 2018 Le Mans Classic has two additional grids and a showcase featuring Group C cars. The two more grids are dedicated to Jaguar and Porsche, with the latter brand celebrating the 70th birthday of the sports car manufacturer.

The leaders of the 2018 Le Mans Classic

Three French cars came in first in the grid featuring the oldest cars: first, a 1931 Talbot 105 GO52, driven by G. Burnett, followed by a 1932 Talbot 105 JJ93, driven by the duo of G. Burnett and M. Birch, and a 1928 Bugatti Type 35 B, one of the older cars of the grid, ranked third, driven by R. Spencer. In the second grid, two trios (Monteverde/Pearson/Smith and Joy/Trenery/Simon) driving 1955 Jaguar D-Types came in first and second, while a 1957 Maserati 250 S with Wilson/Stretton was third.

The duo of Willis/Clark won grid three driving a 1958 Lotus XV, followed by a 1961 Ferrari 250 GT Breadvan (Lukas), and H. Hugenholtz in a 1959 Lister Jaguar Costin. The Ford GT40s dominated the following grid (4), which was won by D. Ferraro and S. Lynn, with Cottingham and Twyman ranked second and third. One of the Ford GT40 pilots shared a video of an on-board camera:

Another Ford-powered car took home victory in grid number 5 (Jack Nicolet). The 1972 Duckhams Ford was envisioned by legendary gentleman driver Alain de Cadenet to participate in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with racecar designer Gordon Murray developing the design. De Cadenet finished the race with his team in a respected 12 in its class. At the 2018 Le Mans Classic, this car was followed by P. France and the duo of Seiler/Seiler, both teams driving a Lola. The grid with the youngest cars (6) was won by Y. Scemama, driving a 1976 TOJ SC 304, followed by a 1975 Chevron B31 BDG and a 1980 Porsche 935 K3.

A comment from the pit lane

Robert Blakemore, Managing Director of British pre-war Aston Martin specialist Ecurie Bertelli, worked at the 2018 Le Mans Classic in the pit lane. His workshop looked after four of around 20 of the participating pre-war Aston Martins. For him, preparing for Le Mans Classic means first concentrating on reliability. But the Mulsanne straight also demands finding the right differential ratio. For him, only the “rollercoaster” of Spa-Francorchamps has about the same conditions regarding speed. Another factor special to Le Mans is “The night session. Here, good lighting helps a great deal.” says Blakemore. “Also, as there is a compulsory pit stop for each of the three races, a pit stop strategy is needed so as not to miss the window and it allows you to make a driver change if you are sharing the drive.”

While the pre-war Aston Martins are generally not the strongest in the competition, he’s still satisfied with their performance. “We compete with quite a spread of performance ability. The Astons tend to punch well above their weight as they are light and have excellent handling. The highest finish position over the last years was the third place with Red Dragon.” As there are quite a few different cars competing with each other at races like Le Mans Classic, there’s an elaborate handicap system to even out the biggest differences in weight and power. But Blakemore also saw a diverse performance depending on the section of the circuit in Le Mans: “Due to their handling, the Astons have a certain advantage over some of the more powerful cars on sections 1 and 3, but they lose out on section 2 and the Mulsanne straight.” For historic racecars, the number of races and the overall distance in Le Mans Classic is demanding. “Each race saw more attrition” he observed. “By the time of race three, 12 to 15 cars had retired from the pre-war grid of 74.” This year’s hot weather at Le Mans, however, was not crucial to this. “The temperature was more of an issue for the drivers than the cars, and the cars were set up well for this. The fire protective clothing layers, however, made it very hot for the drivers. You need to be in good physical shape for the event because of this.”

Overall, he was satisfied with the team’s results. “This year, Richard Bradley finished 9th overall in his Ulster, 2nd on Handicap and 1st in class. An excellent result!” and he was also satisfied with the performance of the cars. “But like any motorsport event, we analyze the results and decisions and always strive to do better next time.”

And the event overall? With 135.000 visitors, the event attracted 10% more visitors than its last edition held in 2016. With the Little Big Mans—a kids race—concerts, a fair, and many more offerings, Le Mans Classic has become an event for the whole family. But although it has grown quite a bit, the 2018 Le Mans Classic has managed to remain focused on keeping its heritage alive with breathtaking cars being put to the test by passionate drivers.

Further information: Official race results.

All photos courtesy of Julien Mahiels.

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